By: Kate Morgan, Research & Education Assistant
Bonded labor can take on many forms. In the case of Indian and Afghan rugs and carpets, young children are bonded to ‘contractors’ in order to pay off family debts. Young boys that activist and reporter Siddharth Kara met at a shelter for rescued child trafficking victims near Allahabad are locked inside carpet shacks in cramped quarters, beaten regularly, given meager allotments of food, suffer respiratory ailments from the high level of thread dust, and are force-fed stimulants to keep them working. They also suffer from deformed spines, malnutrition, vision ailments, and severe cuts from the sharp claw tool that is used to pull the thread down the loom.
Kara’s team also found out that families sold their children to contractors in exchange for jobs at a carpet factory. The child had to then work off the advance of roughly $40 before parents were promised some share in the income from the child’s labor. However, in all cases the children were subsequently charged fees for living quarters, food and water, medicines, and deductions were also made for errors in the work, the report says. The children reported wages of typically $0.11 an hour–because they were still paying the dues on their advances. Some or all of these wages were ostensibly sent to the parents, however was no way to confirm nor deny that these wages were actually being sent to the families, the report says.
Researchers found that entire villages of Muslims were held in severe debt bondage for carpet weaving in rural areas around the cities of Shahjahanpur in Uttar Pradesh and Morena and Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh. Muslims also received the lowest average wages of $1.58 for an eight-hour workday–or $0.20 an hour–followed by Hindus of the lowest caste at $1.65 or $0.21 an hour.
Due in part to tremendous pressure to participate in the global market, India’s industries readily make use of cheap, forced, and bonded labor. Because a developing country like India lacks resources to modernize yet enjoys a large potential workforce, slave labor often becomes the preferred method for keeping costs low and profits high when selling goods and services to Western Europe and North American countries. Although India has many employment codes – outlawing child labor, exploitation of children, and bonded labor, slavery, especially that of children, – they are usually met with a blind eye.
The ILO states, that evidence points to a strong link between household poverty and child labor, and child labor perpetuates poverty across generations by keeping children of the poor out of school and limiting their prospects for upward social mobility. The longer that a child works to support their family, the higher likelihood that they will be continued to be bonded laborers. By keeping adult wages low and denying children education, child bonded labor ensures that poverty will be passed down from generation to generation.